Debt ceiling negotiations are about more than the arbitrary number assigned to cap federal borrowing.  Ultimately, they should be about restraint, and reform toward responsible governing and spending. 

One group of Americans has a lot at stake in how all this works out.  I spent about an hour yesterday afternoon talking to my grandparents on the phone, and for a while we discussed the national debt.  While the recession has been no cakewalk for seniors, there is only so much fallout from a potentially declining America that will affect them in coming decades.  The consequences of today’s bad governing will haunt the person on the other end of the phone line… That is, me, and along with me, millions of so-called “millennials” in America.

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Margaret Hoover (granddaughter of Herbert Hoover) offers an interesting explanation for Republicans on “How the GOP can win young voters.”  She points out that 37 percent of millennials are unemployed or underemployed.  Furthermore:

Since President Obama took office the deficit has more than tripled and the debt has skyrocketed. Every dollar Mr. Obama has borrowed or spent is a dollar millennials are going to have to pay back in the years ahead, in the form of higher taxes, a more sluggish economy, or both. Republicans can stress that while the Obama presidency has darkened the fiscal future, they have put forward solutions (such as the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan) to jump-start the economy and salvage the safety net for millennials.

But what is it that millennials really want?  It’s easy to answer that millennials, like Americans of all ages, want a better economy to work with.  But that’s a somewhat superficial answer.

I can’t say that I speak for all millenials, and I’m not a sociologist, but here’s my take:  I think our belief and behavior in the political sphere (like those before us) will be driven by our worldviews about other things: identity, the truth about the human nature and the universe, history, the American dream, responsibility to others, desires, and relationships.  Actions and consequences.  Interdependence and independence.  Community and family.  Self. 

These topics might all be too big to explore in one blog post, but my point is this: As we watch the Millennial Generation develop, we must look beyond the political battlefield, to the cultural battlefield.  Ideas about life are shaped by infinite variables, including seemingly small things like the books and magazines we read, the songs we listen to, the movies we watch, the people we meet, the classes we take, and even… occasional epiphanies in silent times of independent thought (or prayer).

I think the answer to my question “what do millennials want” is that we don’t know yet.  We may never know.  But we know (now, I hope) that no one politician or political party has the answer.  I hope we’ve learned that over the course of the past 2 or 3 years.

I’m not concerned with turning young people into lifelong Republicans, but I do have two hopes for the youth generation: In the short term, my hope is that millennials wake up from the Obama fantasy.  The fantasy, that our President is actually post-partisan, or nonpartisan, or “beyond the politics”… will never come true.  It’s ok to like Obama if you like his far-left policies, but young people, more so than others, were duped and romanced by his coolness and his smooth way with words.  I think in 2012, millennials will be ready for a leader who is frank with us, who can say, “I don’t promise to make all your dreams come true, but I’ll get out of your way so you can work to find your own dreams.”

But in the long run, my hope is that millennials learn how to fight for themselves in the battlefield of ideas, both politically and culturally.  I believe that in my age cohort there could be some of the most fiercely independent and innovative thinkers America has seen.  Political strategists like to group all people by certain characteristics: race, sex, education, status… age.  But I hope that we can start to defy all that by simply thinking critically and embracing our own paths.